For all the Friends and Relations out West: The Oscar goes to…

Shopping with Pól: „The sea is my supermarket!“

…Pól  and me?

Not quite an Oscar, but a nice certificate at least: the Journalism Award Ireland 2016, an Award presented by the irish tourism agency (ex Board Failte plus Tourism Northern Ireland).

Naturally means a lot to me, since my relation to the island is more than special: I paid Ireland my first visit some 37 years ago, I spent a couple years there and since 1986 I am proud to be part of an irish family as well. All this has shaped me, my views, my feelings and my thinking to quite a degree.

On Wednesday evening Michael Collins, the irish ambassador in Germany, handed me my award.

Him: „Nice certificate! Congratulations!“
Me: „Thank you! I’ll put it up right beside my certificate as an irish whiskey drinker.“
Him: „Yeah?“

He smiled friendly but did not really know what to make of a statement like that.

If he would have asked I could have told him that once upon a time I earned my Whiskey-certificate the hard way: It was well before lunchtime when we landed ourselves in a guided tour round Bushmills Distillery. There was an irish fellow, me and roughly eight Italians. At the end of the tour the inevitable question came up: „Any volunteers?“

Normally the visiting crowd goes havoc on an offer like that. But this particular crowd was italian: Did you ever see Italians drink whiskey? Before lunch?

So when the irish fellow and me shyly lifted our hands we naturally were the only volunteers. Twenty minutes on we were perfectly intoxicated, inebriated, drunk, jared, befuddled, smashed, whatever way you want to put it – did you ever try a whiskey tasting after breakfeast? It’s great, I spend the rest of the day on cloud nineteen.

Pól teaching about sea-foraging: Kelp is great for making crisps.

At this point at the latest his Excellence Mr. Collins would have realized that I well and truly deserved my irish journalism award as well. To get your hands on something like this you not only need a bit of feeling for the country, you need stories to tell as well.

The one I told was about Pól, many of you probably know him. Most of you will not know about the four-year-phase when he vanished though, and that is what the story is about:  How he fell out of his normal life and career, how he retreated to the simple life of fishing and foraging and how, in the end, he healed himself.  While roughing it for four years on Gola, off Donegals coast near Gweedore, this exceptional area became an agenda for Pól as well: Whenever someone is shouting out how beautiful, how worthy to be discovered, preserved and developed Northwest-Donegal is, Póls voice will be the loudest. And if you listen to him, he`ll tell you about the value of a simple, sustainable lifestyle.

For me this became one of the most intense stories I ever worked on. When SPIEGEL ONLINE republished the story one and a half year after its first publication in SPIEGEL Wissen, more than 150.000 people wanted to read it again. It yielded a lot of positive feedback: Did anybody say that „long reads“ don`t work online? Far from it.

I did not manage to get in contact with Pól right after the award ceremony to „warn“ him of his pending renewed publicity. He caught on within hours anyway: The number of his Facebook-friends rose even faster than normal, and a lot of Germans started questioning him about his life as a hermit and what he learned in his years of solitude.

Catch of the day: a young female lobster (foreground, blue: the other young female is mine).

The thing is: he gave that up meanwhile, at least for the time being. At the end of the article he explained that he felt that it was time for him to move on. He tried and applied, and a couple of weeks after Fiona and me visited him on Gola he was invited to Dublin for a job-interview.

It still took a while but in the end he actually made it back to Brussels: Pól is back with the EU-Commission, and they better make the best of the chance they are given to have somebody that witty, funny and altogether positive around. When I last met him last summer he said that sooner or later he would want to go back to Donegal. Save some money, get something started there.

I was very pleased that it was his story that earned me the award, and so is he: „Happy days!“

I promised him a fish-barbecue over here in Germany. Won’t be as good as the fish he caught and put unto the fire back on Gola, but I owe him. And far more than fish: Go raibh maith agat, Pól.

Nature-man: Pól is a connoisseur of Northwest-Donegals beauty, and he is its advocate as well. „This“, he says, „is the best place in the world.“ Might be.